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The Spiritual Giants Who Left Us in 2023

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In 2023, we lost some giants of the Christian faith: CBN founder Pat Robertson as well as ministers like Jack Hayford, Charles Stanley, Tim Keller, and Loren Cunningham

What was it about these men that made them legends in their own time? We spoke with Focus on the Family Chief of Staff Joel Vaughan about their lives and legacies.

"They were all leaders of leaders," Vaughan told CBN News. "Not only did people come to them to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but other leaders looked to them and said, 'Help me, help me guide my organization, help me lead my sheep, help me be a better Christian myself.'"

Vaughan calls them legends—men who had an enormous impact on the church and the world.

Pastor Jack Hayford, a Pentecostal preacher who led the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, was the first to leave in January at the age of 88. 

"He was the most transparent minister of the Gospel I think I've ever seen," said Vaughan. "We don't realize they are just men; we don't realize they have temptation. And Pastor Jack would put all of that out there. He didn't hide anything."

Pastor Charles Stanley, known for his soothing southern accent, was the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta for 49 years and founder and president of In Touch Ministries, which broadcast his sermons around the world. He passed away in April at the age of 90.

"And the thing I remember so much about him was he would point his finger at the camera, and he would say, Listen, with that deep voice, he was an amazing man. Charles Stanley would come home from work, change clothes, put on a pair of jeans and a casual shirt, get his Bible and a half gallon of water, and leave and say, I'll see you Saturday night. And he was going out to prepare his message for Sunday," Vaughan recalled. 

And Tim Keller, not as well-known perhaps and the youngest of the group of spiritual giants passed in May at the age of 72. 

"Pastor Keller pastored a very small church in Hopewell, Virginia, early in his career, and he was asked by the Presbyterian denomination that he served to move to New York City and start a church that was later called Redeemer Presbyterian. And he reached out to probably the toughest city in America to represent the Gospel," Vaughan said.

And at CBN, our beloved Dr. Pat Robertson passed away in June at the age of 93. 

Vaughan called Robertson "a giant of the faith and the person responsible for reaching more people with the Gospel than any other."

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He credited The 700 Club program, which has been on the air since 1961 and is seen around the world by millions of people. 

"Because of the miracle of television. With all due respect to the Rev. Billy Graham, with all due respect to the great Bill Bright who founded Campus Crusade, I think simply through the miracle of television, Pat was probably responsible for leading more people into the kingdom than any American. I feel very confident in saying that," Vaughan said.

Still, Vaughan explained the true depth of their legacies won't be known until we get to heaven.

"And I think of the soul watching TV, maybe in despair, maybe late at night. And they just happened to turn on Pastor Hayford or The 700 Club or In Touch, and they heard a message that led them to faith in Jesus Christ. And there are millions of people across the world who have that same story. And that's why I refer to all of these men as legends," he said.

MORE: YWAM Founder Loren Cunningham Passes Away: 'He Has Added One More Stamp to His Well-Worn Passport: HEAVEN!'

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About The Author

Wendy Griffith

Wendy Griffith is a Co-host for The 700 Club and an Anchor and Senior Reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition to The 700 Club, Wendy co-anchors Christian World News, a weekly show that focuses on the triumphs and challenges of the global church. ( Wendy started her career at CBN on Capitol Hill, where she was the network’s Congressional Correspondent during the Impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton. She then moved to the Virginia Beach headquarters in 2000 to concentrate on stories with a more